PATRICIA: One for the record book!

On Tuesday 20 October 2015 a couple of tropical waves off the Pacific coast of Central America, a region that has seen continued disturbed weather activity for several months now, started to get better organized showing signs of potential further development.  I was aware of these systems while I was following Hurricane OLAF in the Central Pacific to the southeast of Hawaii.

Infrared satellite image [NASA] of Hurricane PATRICIA in the early morning hours of this Friday 23 October 2015 as it aimed for the Pacific coastal region of central Mexico
Infrared satellite image [NASA] of Hurricane PATRICIA in the early morning hours of this Friday 23 October 2015 as it aimed for the Pacific coastal region of central Mexico
On Wednesday the 21st one of these tropical waves  got organized, became a tropical depression and continued strengthening into  tropical storm PATRICIA, the sixteenth-named tropical cyclone of the 2015 East Pacific hurricane season, still showing signs of potential further development late that same day. Initial model runs predicted a track paralleling the Pacific coast of Mexico slowly recurving toward the north and then northeast over an area of rather warm sea surface waters, perhaps reaching mid category 2 strength before making landfall and decaying.

Map showing a region of rather warm sea surface temperatures where hurricane PATRICIA continues to move toward the coast of Mexico
Map showing a region of rather warm sea surface temperatures where hurricane PATRICIA continues to move toward the coast of Mexico

During the night to early morning hours from Wednesday into Thursday the 22nd PATRICIA reached hurricane strength and turned further northeast toward the coast of central Mexico from Manzanillo to Puerto Vallarta. Intensity predictions continued to be for a mid category 2 tropical cyclone.

Color-enhanced infrared satellite image (NOAA) of 23 October showing hurricane OLAF in the central pacific and monstrous category 5 hurricane PATRICIA approaching landfall in Mexico
Color-enhanced infrared satellite image (NOAA) of 23 October showing hurricane OLAF in the central pacific and monstrous category 5 hurricane PATRICIA approaching landfall in Mexico

Something happened during the night hours from Thursday into Friday the 23rd that propelled PATRICIA through a process of rapid, and unprecedented, intensification to a rather strong, even monstrous, category 5 hurricane.

Projected track of hurricane PATRICIA (courtesy of the U.S. Navy research Laboratory) showing potential landfall in the region from Manzanillo to Puerto Vallarta
Projected track of hurricane PATRICIA (courtesy of the U.S. Navy research Laboratory) showing potential landfall in the region from Manzanillo to Puerto Vallarta

As of mid-morning this Friday 23 October PATRICIA is generating sustained maximum winds of 325 kph (~ 202 mph) gusting to 386 kph and still strengthening. Analysis of current data indicates the hurricane may reach winds of 335-340 kph gusting to near 400 kph before landfall on the central Pacific coast of Mexico, some time this afternoon.

All indications are that PATRICIA may still be a category 5 storm when it makes landfall, only the second category 5 hurricane to do so since records have been kept. Storm surge, extremely high waves, extreme rainfall in addition to very strong winds will batter the coastal region generating flash flooding and mudslides.

PATRICIA is so large of a system, at more than 1000 kilometers in diameter, that is already interacting with atmospheric systems over Texas and the southern plains of the U.S.A. where copious amounts f rain and potential flooding are expected today.

Full Earth disk satellite image [NASA] of 23 October 2015 showing Hurricane PATRICIA near the pacific coast of Mexico
Full Earth disk satellite image [NASA] of 23 October 2015 showing Hurricane PATRICIA near the pacific coast of Mexico
PATRICIA appears to be one for the record book!

HURRICANE JOAQUIN IN THE ATLANTIC

It is getting late in the 2015 Atlantic Hurricane Season, already past the traditional historical peak of the annual season, and here we are on 2 October watching a major category 4 Hurricane JOAQUIN that has been hammering the central Bahamas for the past two days.

Infrared satellite image of 10/02/2015 [NASA] showing a strong ang strengthening hurricane JOAQUIN hammering the Bahamas
Infrared satellite image of 10/02/2015 [NASA] showing a strong and strengthening hurricane JOAQUIN hammering the Bahamas
Because of the interaction of several atmospheric systems over the Atlantic and North America forecasting where JOAQUIN will actually go has been rather difficult. Just a couple of days ago with the hurricane nearly stationary over the Bahamas, panic waves spread along the U.S.A. eastern seaboard as several models traced a track pointing toward New Jersey and New York, and memories of SANDY vividly flashed back for million of residents along the Atlantic coastal region.

Satellite image of 10/02/2015 [NOAA] showing water vapor in the atmosphere, which helps visualize the path of least resistance opening between two atmospheric system that may pull JOAQUIN away from a direct hit on the U.S.A. coastal region
Satellite image of 10/02/2015 [NOAA] showing water vapor in the atmosphere, which helps visualize the path of least resistance opening between two atmospheric system that may pull JOAQUIN away from a direct hit on the U.S.A. coastal region
More recently the picture has become clearer as the various weather systems have gotten more organized in the atmosphere and a definite path of least resistance has opened. which appears will take JOAQUIN on a northeasterly track paralleling the U.S.A. coastline and most probably avoiding a direct land-falling impact of these still Sandy-traumatized regions.

Projected track for Hurricane JOAQUIN (courtesy of the U.S. Naval research Laboratory) as of 10/02/2015
Projected track for Hurricane JOAQUIN (courtesy of the U.S. Naval research Laboratory) as of 10/02/2015

To the east of JOAQUIN we are watching a disturbance in the central Atlantic that appears to be getting much better organized, and a strong tropical wave just emerging from Equatorial Africa over the eastern Atlantic to the south of the Cape Verde Islands.

Color-enhanced infrared satellite image (NOAA) of 10/02/2015 showing Hurricane JOAQUIN and two other potentially cyclonic systems over the northern Atlantic basin
Color-enhanced infrared satellite image (NOAA) of 10/02/2015 showing Hurricane JOAQUIN and two other potentially cyclonic systems over the northern Atlantic basin

So it appears there is still plenty of fuel for potential cyclonic activity in the north Atlantic basin, despite the dampening effects of a strong and  still developing El Niño off the Pacific coast of Peru.

Like recently departed New York Yankee legend Yogi Berra  used to say “it ain’t over until it is over”, so the prudent course of action for all interest around the basin will be to pay attention, remain alert, be prepared, and above all MITIGATE, as we go through the final stretch of the ‘official’ 2015 Atlantic Hurricane season. Keep in mind, it won’t be over until mother Nature says it is!